I Dream of Emails and Movies

The best thing about writing is that you learn something every time you do it. This is true whether it’s information or style that you happen to be learning. Some of my best evolutionary periods as a writer have been when writing a format that’s new to me.

About 7 years ago I got a job writing at Sparknotes. This involved writing humorous short listicles on literature. Sounds right up my alley, yes. However, each section had to 1. be six sentences at most, 2. be funny, 3. convey a lot of information, 4. be an enjoyable read to our target audience, which was teenage girls. This meant my entire catalogue of M*A*S*H references and Johnny Cash jokes were as useless as a bag of popcorn in combat (as were tortured metaphors).

So what I once thought would be right up my alley was a lot harder than it seemed. However, I learned to write for audience and edit down to the demi-glaze of a paragraph. In the end, I developed a whole new level of skill. And plus, I now know that I can make teenage girls laugh.

In a recent moment of insanity, I decided to pitch a screenplay to a director. In an act of almost blatant cruelty, she accepted it and then, in a war crime act, asked me to write it.

“Wait. Write what?” I thought.

It hadn’t occurred to me that she would actually want me to write the film. And so in what can only be described as a mix of horror and terror that we’ll call terrhorr, I sat down at my computer and began writing this screenplay. Fun fact: did you know that a screenplay is made up almost entirely of dialogue!? And with that dialogue and some of your “imagination” a screenwriter is expected to tell an entire story!? And that story is meant to be told in 95 pages most of which is dialogue that’s rarely more than a line? Nope, it’s true.

But wait. There’s more.

I recently apparently drank a waterglass filled with peyote and when I had come to, I had accepted a job as a copywriter for an investment firm. Though I don’t do drugs, it’s the only explanation I have for why I would do this. Now I write copy, emails, SMS templates, and, oh it should be mentioned, I have no idea how to do that!

I sometimes sat alone in my kitchen looking at my computer and wondering what had happened. I never had the answer. But I got to work. And I get to work.

And then, here’s the thing, I am getting better. The first draft of my screenplay was a whopping 180 pages (yes, that’s literally double what it should be). The second draft was 140, the third 120, and now on draft four or five, we’re at about 105. Concepts and edits that were once out of my realm of understanding I have adapted to and can now deal with. Amazingly, what has happened is the creation of an almost-passable screenplay. The evolution is amazing to watch.

At the same time, I find that my brain sometimes now locates the language of corporateese, a language I was an A1 beginner in just two months ago. Not only that, business email structure has become second nature and I have a whole new appreciation for the versatility of verbs.

In sum, don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know what it’s going to lead to and how it’s going to help you.   

  1. #1 by RichieG on June 18, 2022 - 10:08 pm

    Love it. Always try new things. I am learning Spanish and writing a history of the International College of Dentists. It’s like being an investigative reporter. (I think)

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